Farmed fish free-for-all

The Western Star - - EDITORIAL -

It’s cer­tainly not the most re­as­sur­ing re­sponse from reg­u­la­tory agen­cies. Tues­day, the me­dia re­ported on an es­cape of farmed salmon from a Her­mitage Bay site run by Cooke Aqua­cul­ture. At the end of July, be­tween 2,000 and 3,000 salmon weigh­ing be­tween five and six pounds es­caped from pens af­ter a rope came loose.

The com­pany is us­ing gill nets to try and re­cover the es­caped fish.

But when CBC tried to find out who is in charge of han­dling the re­cap­ture, things got a lit­tle pe­cu­liar.

Here’s the tail end of the CBC story: “In an email Tues­day, DFO said fish­ery of­fi­cers are mon­i­tor­ing in the Her­mitage area to help find es­caped fish, and is work­ing with the com­pany and provin­cial au­thor­i­ties to re­cap­ture the salmon.

“It said the provin­cial Depart­ment of Fish­eries and Land Re­sources is re­spon­si­ble for the con­tain­ment of fish at aqua­cul­ture farms.

“The provin­cial depart­ment told CBC News that the salmon pens are in the ocean, which falls un­der DFO re­spon­si­bil­ity.”

Think about that.

This is a provin­cial gov­ern­ment that wants to fi­nance a mas­sive Grieg Aqua­cul­ture site in Pla­cen­tia Bay, but nei­ther it nor the fed­eral gov­ern­ment are in charge if things go wrong?

Should we be re­as­sured by the idea that the provin­cial gov­ern­ment feels that, once the salmon are put in sea cages, it’s all go­ing to be DFO’s re­spon­si­bil­ity — even though DFO says it isn’t?

There are some se­ri­ous is­sues here. It’s bad enough that the prov­ince wants to be both busi­ness part­ner and reg­u­la­tor in the aqua­cul­ture in­dus­try, han­dling, for ex­am­ple, the en­vi­ron­men­tal as­sess­ment process that would set the op­er­at­ing stan­dards for busi­nesses like Grieg.

But there seems to be a crit­i­cal and ba­sic dis­con­nect if nei­ther of the two lev­els of fish­eries depart­ments is will­ing to ac­cept any re­spon­si­bil­ity when things are go­ing off the rails.

The provin­cial gov­ern­ment un­der Danny Wil­liams had no prob­lem step­ping into fed­eral ju­ris­dic­tion, set­ting up a stronger fish­eries en­force­ment unit to pa­trol salmon rivers af­ter the provin­cial gov­ern­ment ar­gued the fed­eral gov­ern­ment wasn’t do­ing enough to pro­tect the re­source.

The cur­rent provin­cial Fish­eries Depart­ment, led by Min­is­ter Gerry Byrne didn’t have any trou­ble step­ping in or hav­ing the min­is­ter in­volve him­self in salmon stock dis­cus­sions, and the prov­ince didn’t have a prob­lem ar­gu­ing it should set its own catch-and-re­lease lim­its for wild salmon, even though that is clearly a fed­eral re­spon­si­bil­ity. Nor did they have any is­sue with launch­ing their own fledgling sci­ence pro­gram ex­am­in­ing whether catch-and-re­lease was harm­ing the num­bers of re­turn­ing salmon in New­found­land rivers.

But now, it sounds like every­one is in­tent on pass­ing the buck.

Why are things sud­denly so dif­fer­ent when there are big busi­ness in­ter­ests in­volved?

Sort it out, folks. Af­ter all, some­one has to be in charge.

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